UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution Monday establishing November 18th as a day to spotlight the sexual exploitation and abuse of children.
The day also will be used to stre,ss the need for prevention, for perpetrators to be brought to justice, and for victims to be given a voice as part of the long process of healing.
The resolution, which was sponsored by Sierra Leone and Nigeria and co-sponsored by more than 110 countries, was adopted by consensus and a bang of the gavel by the assembly’s acting president, which was greeted with loud applause.
Sierra Leone’s first lady, Fatima Maada Bio, who introduced the resolution, called child sexual abuse a “heinous crime” that especially affects girls who are at greater risk of experiencing forced sex and exploitation.
She said prevention is “an emergency -- but doable.”
The resolution proclaims Nov. 18 every year as the World Day for the Prevention of and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Violence.
It calls on the 193 U.N. member nations, international organizations, world leaders, civil society, non-governmental groups, faith leaders, academic institutions and private businesses to commemorate the day “in a manner that each considers most appropriate.”
The assembly suggested educating the public about the impact of sexual abuse on children, the need to prevent exploitation online and offline, and holding perpetrators accountable.
It said survivors should have access to justice and to “open discussion on the need to prevent and eliminate their stigmatization, promote their healing, affirm their dignity and protect their rights.”
Bio welcomed the resolution’s wide support, telling reporters after the vote, “I think the whole world is standing in solidarity to say enough is enough.”
She said Nov. 18 will not be a day of celebration but a reminder to the world that the “scourge" of child sexual abuse is happening and to give the victims voices “so they know they’re not in this on their own.”
“When someone violates your body without your consent, that is a crime, and it’s taking your human rights away from you," she said. “So, Nov. 18 will be a day that we will gather, and we will scream together and say, `You’re not going to bring us down. We’re still surviving, and we will live. If you think you have finished us, no, you haven’t.’”
Bio said that in the West sexual abuse has been talked about for a long time and people are not ashamed, but that in Africa people don’t want to talk about rape. “We’ve been covering things up for so long,” she said.
“We need to stop using religion to cover up bad things … there’s no religion that says rape is acceptable,” she said.
Bio credited the young generation for saying “we’re not having this anymore” and she urged all countries to let victims speak on Nov. 18.
“I don’t know whether we’ll be able to stop rape altogether in the world, but the louder we get, I think it reduces the number of victims we have,” she said.
Bio gave credit for the resolution to Jennifer Wortham, a Californian whose two younger brothers were molested by their parish priest more than 35 years ago and who has been campaigning for a world day to help bring healing and justice for survivors. Wortham raised the issue with her, “making this my agenda,” Bio said.
Wortham praised the backing from U.N. member nations and said over 100 organizations were going to be tweeting support for the resolution Monday.
Brisa de Angulo, a lawyer and child psychologist who campaigns against sexual abuse in her home country of Bolivia, said she was a victim of sexual violence when she was 15 and has been fighting for justice for 20 years. Noting that a month ago, Colombia decided not to extradite her alleged attacker to face trial, she called the assembly’s action “a very important day for me."
"For many years, survivors have walked silently with the shame and the blame for what happened to us,” de Angulo told reporters. “To have a day that recognizes that what happened to you is wrong and that we’re finally going to start to do something about it, start talking about it, and not hide it — is extremely important.”